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Should you eat green coffee beans?

I make no claims as to the efficacy of drinking coffee, but for as long as I have been involved in selling and roasting coffee, I have read about the many supposed health benefits associated with consuming it. From curing baldness, through all sorts of medical conditions, to being a daily tonic to ward off or prevent various illnesses developing in the first place.

Mostly the research is done, or sponsored, by the coffee industry in some form or other and, it is fair to say, usually promotes the regular intake of moderate numbers of cups per day. I do believe that some of these findings seem credible and some of them I genuinely believe (except the bit about baldness, sadly!).

The only issue I have with reading about the benefits of coffee is the odd few references to ingesting green (unroasted) beans in one form or another, which I cannot condone, and is pretty reckless.

In the roastery we have systems set up to keep green beans in a separate place from roasted beans. They have their own containers, handling tools etc. and we wash our hands thoroughly after handling them. We are inspected by the local Food Standards Authority, to make sure we have these systems in place and adhere to them. Coffee is regarded as a very low level risk in the food world, due to it being roasted at high temperatures, and then ground and immersed in (almost) boiling water before you drink it. So don’t worry, it really is safe as a food when processed and consumed in the normal way.

Green beans however are a different kettle of fish!

Some animals do eat ripe coffee fruit such as elephants (whole plants, and mostly in Kenya), some birds (which is one way of seed dispersal), and sadly a type of wild cat from the East called a civit, which has now led to their being force fed, and is a horrific and hidden animal cruelty issue (think pate de foie gras).

However, no animal that I know of will come anywhere near unroasted green beans let alone eat them. You never have to worry about infestation in a roastery, due to caffeine being instantly recognised by all animals (except humans apparently) as a poison.

The production and transport of greens is an interesting and rarely considered matter!

Coffee beans come from all over the world and are picked and processed in several different ways which I will maybe cover in another ‘musing’. There are various methods of removing the fruity outer layer (cherry) and drying the bean to the target moisture content of 11%. Mostly, processing green beans involves water or rubbing and finally drying outside on long outdoor trestles (typically Africa) or large open spaces like football pitches (typically S. America). Any water used is likely to be from a local river, and drying in the open means that anything from (birds etc.) above drops on to the beans. They are generally picked and sorted by hand by teams of local people. From there, the beans are transported halfway across the world in open weave hessian sacks to ports, on unwrapped pallets, into warehouses and finally to roasteries like mine. During that time they are open to any amount of environmental detritus and as a result develop surface bacteria and yeasts, which paradoxically is now thought to be the explanation of why the same varieties of bean taste differently if they are grown apart (obviously the soil content is always the main factor). This theory is borne out by the naturally partly ‘fermented’ coffees such as Old Brown Java, ‘monsooned’ varieties, which are basically left outside for a few years, and the disastrous Kapi Louwak mentioned before having been exposed to natural digestive bacteria from the poor animals’ stomach juices.The resultant coffee tasting different from the original crop proving that some change has occurred.

Recent development in adding yeasts to green beans (specifically a yeast used in making sour beers) and allowing them to ferment, has found that yeast and bacteria can be used to ‘consume and convert’ the bitter parts of coffee, resulting in a sweeter tasting drink. This is the same principle behind making the (now popular) healthy drink Kombucha, using a ‘symbiotic combination of bacteria and yeast’ (SCOBY) which will feature in the next musing, as I take a look at the myriad of ‘other things’ you can use coffee for!

So I hope you have enjoyed reading this personal opinion, and particularly if you roast at home or are thinking about it (get in touch, I would love to help).

Enjoy your coffee for its flavour and of course, health benefits. Cheers.


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